Betsy Johnson took a long-expected step Tuesday in her quest to be Oregon’s first nonaffiliated governor in almost nine decades, submitting 48,214 signatures to state elections officials.
With the move, Johnson well overshot the 23,744 valid signatures she’ll need to qualify for the November ballot without a party endorsement. The former Democratic state senator has been circulating petitions in support of her candidacy for months, using a mix of campaign events and paid signature gathering.
In brief remarks in front of the Secretary of State’s Office in Salem, Johnson said it was a “historic day” and thanked several people who’d helped collect signatures for the effort.
“Why did they do this?” she asked. “They love Oregon. They want a better Oregon, free from partisan paralysis.”
Johnson left without taking questions from gathered press.
State elections officials now have until Aug. 30 to determine whether Johnson has collected enough valid signatures. They’ll do so by sampling petition sheets at random and using statistical analysis to find out if she has met the threshold.
With some high-profile endorsements and hefty donations from figures like Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and heavy equipment dealer The Pape Group, Johnson’s presence on the ballot has seemed inevitable since she announced her candidacy last October. She has so far outraised Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan, though both of those women have ratcheted up fundraising in recent weeks.
With Johnson’s candidacy likely to be affirmed in coming days, the question before her is how to solve the tricky math problem of winning as a nonaffiliated candidate.
Johnson’s centrist campaign is aimed at both Republicans tired of losing gubernatorial races and disaffected Democrats. The former high-ranking legislative Democrat is as stridently critical of the status quo under her former party as many Republicans, and has not hesitated to insult her opponents or members of the media even as she touts a vision of bipartisan bridge-building.
Many political observers believe it’s more likely she’ll play spoiler for one major party candidate or the other than be able to attract partisan voters she’ll need to win. Johnson’s presence in the race is one reason Republicans feel especially hopeful this is the year they break a long losing streak for the governor’s seat.
As of Tuesday, Johnson had reported raising more than $10.25 million in the race, with $4.6 million still in the bank. Kotek has raised nearly $6 million in total, with about $1.3 million on hand. Drazan has so far attracted about $6.1 million, but currently has less than $500,000.
While summer is typically a slow season for state campaigns, all three women have visited county fairs and other events in recent days, and all three have spent large amounts on TV advertising. They also participated in the race’s first debate in late July.
Lauren Dake contributed to this story.